Those of you who have been tolerating my presence on this site for lo these many months have noticed a certain predilection to criticizing the Occupy movement. And those who see the headline, read the first line and immediately start leaving critical comments may think I have it out for Occupy. The reality is I don't.
As I mentioned in a previous column, I actually support the basic premise of Occupy, and indeed I truly believe there would not be a national discourse right now about the disparity in wealth in this country if not for Occupy. But I also believe that you have to be the change you want to see in the world. Do you want to be remembered as someone who forced change at the point of the sword or at the point of a pen?
Well, the point of a pencil to be precise. The reason I say that is the performance (and there really is no other way to describe it) of Occupy at the Oakland City Council meeting on Tuesday of this week. The Council was bringing up a piece of legislation that they felt was over-reaching. And you know what the aggravating part of the whole thing was?
Dammit, I agreed with them again!
The ordinance being discussed was banning the use of certain items at protests like shields, clubs, hammers and others. It's very broad, and also a bit of a slippery slope, where the council is trying to ban items before they are even being used. I know several neighbors' stereos I would like included in this legislation also, which is my point... where does this stop? It's a sloppy way to try and deal with this problem.
But back to that pencil. The Council starting discussing the issue when inevitably Occupy starting interrupting. This is truly the only consistent act of Occupy, the childish act of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling 'la la la la!" as loud as you can. And then, the following pearl directed at Councilmember Pat Kernighan. "I want to tell you, Pat Kernighan, that I could walk up to you and kill you with a (expletive) pencil. Are you going to outlaw pencils?"
In all honesty, I was excited to see Occupy showing up at the Council. Yes, they are disruptive, yes they have the manners of three-year-olds who missed their naps, but half of life is showing up. In a sense I gave them props for this, because the last time I say them in action interacting with" the system" (At the Commonwealth Club last December) they fumbled the ball completely. Berkeley professor George Lakoff basically outlined for them how to get engaged in a political way like the Tea Party.
Were they interested? Not in the slightest. After Lakoff had finished blocking out exactly what they should do over the next 12 months to have an impact on the political system, one Occupier after another stood up and proudly proclaimed that they had no interest in going down that road. They were above that, or below it, or beyond it or some other ridiculous stance. Sorry kiddies, but if you want to engage in changing the system, you do need to actually engage with the system.
Which is why Tuesday night I was not sure if I should applaud or shake my fists at them. On the one hand, they were in the belly of the beast, so I do give them credit for that. I am sure there were numerous discussions to make that even happen, and Occupy seemed to almost have a few leaders in the room that night, which is even more encouraging.
However, that second dynamic soon reared its ugly head in the form of what can only be described as censorship. Yes, you are reading that correctly, and it is discouraging to no end that a group that is constantly harping on about their right to free expression does not feel the same way about others. As soon as people stood up to speak against Occupy, they freaked out and went back to their old ways. They shouted and laughed at one speaker, and finally walked up to him and told him "you can't talk."
And now for a completely different example of so close (I know, I need to work on my segues): there was a wonderful press conference last week where they announced the new ferry connection from San Francisco to Oakland. Which was great until they flashed a picture of the new ferry and stenciled in big black letters on the side was the name "Peralta."
Ouch. OK, for those of you who are not up on your Bay Area maritime history, the name Peralta strikes a dark chord in the local shipping community. In fact, it is considered a bit of a cursed name in these parts. On February 17, 1928, the Key System ferry Peralta inexplicably nosed into the water just short of the Oakland pier, causing the greatest loss of life ever in a local ferry disaster. It was a tragic day for Bay Area sailors, and all the more odd given that years later the same ferry caught fire. Did I mention the Peralta got stuck in the ramp during her launch, a sign that old salts consider to be a bad omen? Yes, all these are attached to that name.